There is currently an overabundance of streaming media. Okay, I’ll say it. The flood of new entertainment continues to outstrip our capacity to consume it, despite our complaints that HBO Max has canceled this movie or Netflix has not renewed that series for a final season.
You undoubtedly have a vast collection of movies already, and that’s just the ones you’ve seen. But in today’s media ecosystem, even if you consider yourself a film expert, there are likely plenty that you have never heard of.
Netflix in particular has established itself as a leader in spending huge sums of money to develop or acquire films and then doing little to promote them beyond simply making them available via streaming and allowing their discovery to chance.
Films with notable actors and directors may have gone into thin air, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still worth tracking down again. Check out this list of 15 underappreciated “Netflix Originals” over the past several years that you should add to your watchlist right away.
What Happened to Monday
The film’s director, Tommy Wirkola, is most known for his work on the upcoming action film Spermageddon and the current David Harbour vehicle Violent Night, both of which deal with the hazards of overpopulation. In the not-too-distant future, countries with one-child policies cryogenically store their surplus of children until they are needed as colonists on another planet or until Earth discovers more resources.
Take Children of Men and make it a little sillier. The policy’s enforcer, played by Glenn Close, and the grandpa of identical septuplets, played by Willem Dafoe. To prevent the kids from being put in the freezer, he devises a strategy in which they all pretend to be the same person in turn (Noomi Rapace, in multiple roles). Insane, yet entertaining; despite its A-list cast, it was largely overlooked.
Based on the true story of Philadelphia’s Fletcher Street Riding Club, which has been teaching Black youngsters about horse training and care for over a century, Idris Elba stars in the film.
Joining Elba in this heartwarming tale of a father and son reuniting are Caleb McLaughlin (Stranger Things) and Lorraine Toussaint.
The Willougbys is a computer-animated fantasy film based on a novel by Lois Lowry (The Giver) about a pair of indifferent parents (Martin Short and Jane Krakowski) and their three children (Will Forte, Alessia Cara, and Seán Cullen, playing twins).
This occasionally gloomy but often extremely amusing movie about the value of discovered family is saved by the unusual nanny played by Maya Rudolph. Created by the same team that brought you “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2,” the unique stop-motion animation technique is a highlight.
This Black Mirror-esque tale was co-written and directed by Daniel Goldhaber (the upcoming How to Blow Up a Pipeline), who collaborated with Isa Mazzei, who drew inspiration for her story from her book. Madeline Brewer (Orange is the New Black) plays Alice Ackerman, a.k.a. Lola Lola, an online sex worker who, one night, discovers that there is another Lola out there—a cam girl who is identical to Alice in appearance and general vibe, but whose willingness to go further puts her ahead of Alice in terms of viewers.
An excellent center performance from Brewer propels this horror film, which has much to say about the dehumanization of sex workers.
Shirkers explores the potential and risks of looking back via an unorthodox lens. Sandi Tan, Jasmine Ng, and Sophia Siddique, three Singaporean friends, made the 1992 film Shirkers with the help of their film teacher, who disappeared shortly afterward with the finished movie.
When the man passed away, his family gave the video back to Sandi Tan, who used it to make this intriguing documentary.
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Our Souls at Night
And what is this, exactly? Ah, just a top-notch director’s love drama starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda (Ritesh Batra, of The Lunchbox and The Sense of an Ending). Despite the scary title, it’s a beautiful film that deserves accolades.
I Am the Pretty Thing That Lives in the House
Fast-paced and effectively eerie, this gothic horror film stars Ruth Wilson as a live-in nurse who suspects the creaky old house where she works is haunted.
The Blackcoat’s Daughter and Gretel and Hansel, both directed by Osgood Perkins, were commercial and critical successes.
I Am Mother
Oscar-winner Starring Hillary Swank, Rose Byrne, and Clara Rugaard, this suspense film tells the story of an unnamed little girl who is raised in a post-apocalyptic bunker by her robotic mother.
When the daughter meets a woman from the surface world named Swank, she begins to doubt the reliability of everything her robo-mother has ever told her (robots could be less helpful than we assume). I just learned of it today. Think of it as M3GAN’s science fiction-themed pregame.
Matilda the Musical
Recently, Roald Dahl has been all over the news, but it hasn’t taken away from the slightly mischievous fun of this dance-heavy interpretation of the legendary character. Matilda is played by Alisha Weir, with Emma Thompson and Lashana Lynch also in the cast.
In the United Kingdom, where it had a wide theatrical release, it generated considerable interest. In the United States, you could have missed it unless you were watching Netflix on Christmas Day. The streamer was too preoccupied with advertising Guillermo del Toro’s Pinocchio to notice.
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The Sea Beast
Chris Williams, who directed or collaborated on some of the best-animated features of the last decade (Bolt, Big Hero 6, Moana, etc.), narrates the story of a young woman who stows away on the ship of a famed monster hunter (Karl Urban).
The film was nominated for an Academy Award, so it’s not completely unknown; yet, it was released in the same year as many other notable animated films and seems to have been overlooked.
Taiwanese import was largely ignored until it made a few best-of lists at year’s end (and an Oscars shortlist). The two brothers in A-Sun, one an accomplished medical student and the other a troubled teen, gradually replace each other in their parents’ affections.
The result is a very poignant reflection on the emotional toll of unmet hopes.
The Half of It
Back in 2004, Alice Wu made waves with her lesbian classic Saving Face, which she wrote and directed.
Her subsequent comedy-drama, which takes its cue from Cyrano de Bergerac (lonely high school student Ellie Chu is asked to woo her crush Aster on behalf of a football player), is superior.
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